Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lie Back And Think of Zip.ca.

Taking a company to task in a blog post is kind of tacky. I always assume the author is blackmailing a corporation for graft. But today I feel I have no other recourse than to use my blog as a forum for my complaints about Zip.ca, a Canadian company that rents dvd via the mail, in the manner of Netflix in the United States. Emails and twitter messages to Zip.ca result in canned responses. Discussion of the situation on their community forums is not fixing the problem. By their own admission, the people manning the Zip.ca telephone lines don't have the ability or the knowledge to fix my account. I'm writing this post because I want:
• to know how many other people are having problems with Zip.ca's service,
• to inform possible customers of ongoing issues, and
• to have Zip.ca stop labelling me as a crook.

Here's the background:

Almost four weeks ago I mailed two Zip discs from my local post office. Upon returning home I logged onto their website to update my account to show the DVDs were en route. Usually within 24 hours, I receive an email listing the new titles being shipped to me. This system -- wherein Zip.ca ships out new DVDs before your old ones are returned to their warehouse -- is a courtesy feature they offered to all customers as an acknowledgement of the inefficiency of Canada Post and the vast geography of this country. DVDs shipped under this system are called ZipRefills.

I didn't get an email. Five working days passed with no response.Thinking this was an odd oversight, I contacted a customer service rep via twitter, then email. I was told that a ZipRefill is not a guaranteed rental and is only shipped when available inventory permits an early shipment.  This puzzled me since I've come to regard ZipRefills as standard operating procedure.  I printed off my rental history and started to count the various types of shipments I'd received with my 2 DVD Unlimited Plan.  If Zip.ca stuck to their One ZipRefill At A Time policy, then I should have no more than 50% of my rentals as ZipRefills. The other 50% should be Regular Shipments, Preshipments, and Gotta Have It discs.

WRONG!  In fact 79% of all my rentals were ZipRefills. Only 12% were sent as Regular shipments. I was sent Preship DVDs 8% of the time and 1% of the time I received Gotta Have It DVDs. 

I began to wonder why the service was discontinued.

To find the answer, I went to the Zip.ca community forums. Turns out that in April, Zip.ca suspended the ZipRefill option for some accounts. No ZipRefills means the number of shipments a customer can expect in a month has decreased by 50%. In essence, I am now paying twice the amount for every disc rented.

It took Zip.ca two weeks to respond to complaints on the forum. In a thread called The Last Zip Refill, a staff member called Momentous Rob posted on page 5:
"Recently, we discovered some gaming of the zip refill system and we made changes to our systems to eliminate it. Don't get me wrong, I love a good game and strategy. But when it crosses a line and starts to effect other customers negatively, we will act. So we started temporarily suspending the zip refill privilege for some users based on a pattern in their behaviour. These users still get the standard zip.ca service, which is when we get a DVD back, we send another out. But they have lost the privilege of getting and advance shipment."
As you can imagine, people weren't thrilled with this accusation. 

Seven hours later Momentous Rob commented (on page 6 of that thread):
"There are other reasons I said in my post that effect zip refill and how it works. I have certainly not labelled all of you "gamers"."
This was a nice attempt to retroactively qualify his earlier blanket statement calling heretofore loyal customers cheats. In that first comment he did not say some people were gaming and some were not, but both lost their ZipRefill rights. Nope. He said gamers lost their ZipRefill rights. The logical interpretations of his statement is: Gamers lost their ZipRefills.  I lost my ZipRefills. Ergo I'm considered a gamer. 

Five hours later -- on a day I assume Momentous Rob calls "one of the worst freakin' day of my career at Zip.ca" -- he posted:
"We have suspended zip refill ability (all of it, not throttled) for some users that were attempting to game it. This suspension is temporary and will automatically lift after a period of time. It is not permanent."
 and
"Just because you have not seen a zip refill lately does NOT mean you have been suspended from zip refill. Please do not try and over analyze this."
Bullshit, I thought when I read this post. This weak-kneed admonishment to not over think why I've lost my privileges is infuriating. They've only given one explanation for lose of ZipRefills: attempts to play the system to get more DVD shipments.  What? I'm not suppose to be annoyed that I'm no longer getting the same level of service for my subscription fee because a computer algorithm says I'm a crook?

Here's what Zip.ca should do if customers are playing the system:
1. people who are blatantly gaming the system are suspended. Point blank. Don't keep taking their subscription fees, with the hope that when you eventually return their ZipRefill rights, they'll suddenly become model customers.
2. educate customers who might be erroneously labelled as gamers because of behaviour that might be suspect, but might be innocent.

Personally, I average 6 DVDs a month -- a pittance compared to most users. I always post my discs from the mailbox INSIDE the post office. My borrowing record is clean -- none of my DVDs have been lost or stolen. I update the status of my discs to help their tracking software. I rate the movies I watch. I'm a loyal, low-maintenance customer. Until two weeks ago I considered Zip.ca to be a great company whom I trusted. Not anymore.

I call bullshit on everything Momentous Rob wrote in that thread. I believe ZipRefill rights were culled by an algorithm designed to cap rentals.  I don't believe that my ZipRefills have been removed because of gaming. I think that Zip.ca are gaming their customers.

I have two theories to explain why Zip.ca might be throttling services:

1. The management is capping rentals to increase their profit margin. Fewer zip rentals = fewer disks to be mailed = less overhead = more profit. Digital downloads and online content are hurting the rental industry, and Zip.ca needs to conserve capital. Especially now that they're doing a deal with Samsung to stream new releases digitally.

2. Fewer ZipRefills means fewer discs in the mail system and more discs in the Zip.ca warehouse or in the hands of Zip.ca customers.  This is important because Canada Post is threatening strike action. Zip.ca says they've made alternative delivery arrangements if the strike goes ahead.  That's a band aid solution that might hold them for a few weeks. It won't amount to shit if they've got thousands and thousands of their DVDs sitting in Canada Post mail boxes, sorting rooms, and delivery vans where they can't touch them till a labour contract is signed. 

If you think both of these theories are far fetched, I'd like you to consider two things:

• wouldn't a company -- upon learning a computer algorithm is penalizing the wrong clients -- either alter the algorithm in the name of good public relations, or attempt to educate their customers so their behaviour is no longer suspect? Why have they not offered to fix the problem? and
• from June 2010 until March 2011, Zip.ca purchased over 100 newly released titles every month. In April they bought 26. In May the added 16. Does this sound like a company with a healthy bankroll?

At this point I don't know if I'm sticking with Zip.ca. I don't think I want to give my money to a company who thinks I'm a crook.




Follow-up post is here.



02/14/2013 -- Comments have been disabled to thwart the spammers who try daily to comment on this post. 

17 comments:

  1. Oh the joys of living in Canada! We get junk companies that don't know how to do business and even our netflix sucks. I have heard bad things about zip.ca. I just don't think we have a choice other than to not use any DVD service. Oh how I miss living stateside sometimes! (ok, most of the time I miss it)

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  2. Wow, I've never had a problem with Zip & we've been with them for, I dunno - over 6 years, I think. Definitely before we moved here & that was >5 years ago.

    I have the 4 at a time plan & I regularly max out. I don't know if that means I'm a 'gamer'. I don't actually know what that means. I try very hard to optimize my membership so that I DO max out.

    If that means tying everyone to the couch to watch everything we have, gosh darn it, I'll do it! ;-)

    I keep a zip list of >100 titles & I get stuff smoking fast from them.

    I'm going to check now if my refill thing has changed.

    Oh & I did have to call customer service just a couple weeks ago as they sent me the same disc back to back - a weird hiccup. The guy apologized profusely, gave me a freebie for the month & sent the next in the series ASAP.

    I'd be so bummed if zip went wonky. It's been a great thing for us as we don't have cable.

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  3. I would have to look it up, but I believe that netflix was sued over nearly this same situation (treating some paying customers differently than others). I know we have different legal systems, but you would think that when a company models the business after another company, they would also learn from their mistakes & bad PR.

    We left netflix for a year or so, when we found that the disks would just sit & sit. Now that their streaming library is so large, we use that as probably 99% of our service. Zip.ca may be really making a push to get their customers to behave similarly.

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  4. We are the opposite for Netflix. Because of our kids' sleeping schedules, we VERY rarely get to watch a movie. We have had movies for FOUR months before returning them. Netflix makes so much money on us.

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  5. So - of the titles I currently have out, 3 are zip refills.
    Maybe this is all depends on what plan you're on?

    I'll check back later as I'm curious & with hulu (+ cough cough hotspot shield) we could start migrating away from such heavy use of zip.....

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  6. I have nothing to add here except that I really really really dislike dealing with this kind of crap. I had a heavy campaign against out current internet/cable company last fall and was surprised and how angry I would find myself getting about it! Grrrr!!! I even WROTE a letter and MAILED it to them about my complaints. My husband informed me that nobody cares and he was probably right, but it still made me feel better writing it. I can get myself really worked up when I feel that I am being wronged as a consumer. I hope you'll find some resolution, but obviously it won't be happening with Rob.

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  7. @Michelle -- We've been with Zip for 18 months, and this is the only issue we've had. There are lots of complaints about zip floating around the net, but most seem to date from 2005. For us it's zip or cinemail (same concept, but based out of Calgary) or nothing. With Blockbuster Canada going bust, the dvd rental market is going to get a lot leaner.

    @hornblower -- we don't have cable/satellite either. Our zip list is pretty long, but kind of all over the map. Lots of kids shows, documentaries, and cheesy tv shows from the 80s.

    @Eryn -- It does boil down to bad PR. Zip should not have permitted this change in policy to be announced via a casual message on their forums. It's not the correct venue to announce profound changes in policy.

    Netflix's Canadian branch is strictly streaming, and their selection is flimsy (because of legal issues about copyrights and broadcast issues in Canada -- we're so fuckin' foreign sometimes). Plus I always prefer to use "homegrown" companies. This is as close to patroitism as I get.

    @Kimberly -- The portable dvd player + a Zip disc = me cooking or baking or cleaning in the kitchen.

    @hornblower -- But how is that possible?, I ask. After all the zip policy (which they imply is NON-negotiable) is for only ONE ZipRefill at a time for ALL USERS since time immemorial, aka 2005l!! Don't mind me, I'm just bitter.

    @Melanie -- The post was inspired by the fact that I hate feeling like I'm being taken advantage of and I take a lot of pride in being a good consumer. Also I'm not a CROOK!!

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  8. could you please update us when Zip contacts you? i'd really appreciate it as i haven't been able to get a follow-up on the ZipRefill Ban List.
    thanks!

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  10. I can't believe no one has commented on the most crucial fact here, which is OBVIOUSLY that Momentous Rob used 'effect' instead of 'affect' TWICE. (deep breath).

    We had Zip for a couple of years but cancelled it because we didn't watch enough to make it worthwhile ( I loved the comment about tying everyone to the couch). For selection they couldn't be beat. The one issue I did have was a similar one - I did have four or five discs that were damaged (they were actually cracked right through) and at one point I got an email saying I had a 'higher than average' incidence of damaged discs and suggesting I try washing them before playing. I sent a tersely worded email suggesting that they LOOK at the discs I sent back with their actual EYES and see how much good washing was going to do. I sort of hate how much of a goody-goody I am, but the other side of that is I get VERY IRATE when someone accuses me (however indirectly) of gaming the system.

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  11. We've been Zip customers since 2007 and the service has been great. Until recently. Over the past few months, we've had recurring problems with DVD regularly spending days in limbo between Zip and our mailbox. They've all reappeared eventually, but the turn-around increase was noticeable and several complaints were filled (with DVD charged to us and then refunded). And then, Ziprefills were suspended in April. I don't think we're "gamers". We have 2 accounts, one for movies and another for TV shows, and we average 4 and 7 DVDs a months on our plans. Both lost their Ziprefill privileges. We've decided to cancel. We've used our bonus points for a free months and then, ciao. Sorry Zip, but you suck now...

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  12. Sorry this is a wee bit off topic, but would you mind letting me know what it means when a DVD is labeled "preship"? One of mine was recently sent as that and I can't find anything on Zip's website nor otherwise about it. Your blog was the only real Google hit. I'd be grateful if you could let me know. Thanks!

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  13. @Anonymous (September 22) -- a preship is a disc that is sent over and above the number of available slots you have. It's usually a title in your top 10 that no one else wants & so Zip sends it on to the customer rather than stick it away in the warehouse until your next available slot opens up.

    Or that's my theory anyway...

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  14. Your experience is the opposite of mine. Stellar service and absolutely nothing to complain about. Free shipments for damaged discs, refills etc...Why is 79% of your orders refills? Something smells.

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    Replies
    1. "Something smells?" What does that mean?

      I was getting zip refills at such a high rate because at that time it was the policy for zip to ship discs as soon as customers marked discs as "returned" on the website. This service was eventually and unceremoniously discontinued by Zip. Hence this post.

      It's nice that your service has been stellar but that doesn't alter the fact that I was unhappy with my experience at Zip.

      Delete
  15. Replies
    1. Exploiting a weakness or flaw in a computer service or automated system for your own gain. In this instance, fraudulently marking discs as received and returned to increase the number being shipped by zip.

      Delete